Childcare in high-income countries report: Romania ranks high on maternity leave, but low on early childhood education and care access

Parents of more than 50 percent of Romanian children rely on informal care, provided by relatives, friends, or neighbors

18 June 2021
Mother Magdalena and father Nikola are plazing and taking care of their seven month old baby girl Helena.
UNICEF/Pancic

BUCHAREST, 18 June 2021 - Even before the COVID-19 crisis some of the world’s richest countries were failing to offer comprehensive childcare solutions to all families, and in some instances, this reflected their policy priorities rather than available resources, reveals a new report of UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti released today. The research - Where do rich countries stand on childcare? - uses the most recent comparable data, assessing both the leave and childcare policies in the 41 high-income countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) or the European Union (EU).

The report ranks each country on eight indicators grouped into four dimensions: leave, access, quality and affordability of childcare. Romania is ranked 2nd in leave entitlements (92 weeks of full pay), preceded by Japan and followed by Estonia and Republic of Korea. Romania and Estonia have the longest leave available for mothers, while Japan and Korea – the longest leave reserved for fathers.

Maternity leave, which typically starts just before childbirth, tends to be short and well-paid, averaging 19 weeks across the rich countries and paid at 77% of the national average wage. Parental leave that follows maternity leave tends to be long and paid at a lower rate: averaging 36 weeks paid at 36% of the average wage.

Regarding access, Romania ranks 39 (in the bottom third), followed by Slovakia and Turkey. The access dimension is comprised of two indicators: children aged 3-5 using early childhood education and care for at least one hour a week in 2019 and children in organized learning one year before starting school in 2018. Regarding the affordability of the childcare, Romania ranks 27th place (in the middle third), on the same level with Poland.

The findings of the report clearly show that we need enhance the access to childcare for all Romanian children and especially for those with vulnerabilities, in order to ensure their development, for which affordable high quality early childhood education and care is critical. The European Child Guarantee will play a key role in achieving results in this area”, said Pieter BULT, UNICEF Representative in Romania.

According to the report, some parents rely on informal care, or care provided without remuneration by relatives, friends, or neighbors. In rich countries, 27 percent of children under three and 29 percent of children from age three up to the school age rely on such care for at least an hour a week. This, however, ranges from close to around zero in the Nordic countries to over 50 percent in Romania. Low informal care figures reflect comprehensive provisions of early childhood education and care (ECEC), especially childcare guarantees, or legal entitlements of access to formal childcare.

Other findings

  • Luxembourg, Iceland and Sweden occupy the top places in the League Table. The best performers manage to combine affordability with quality of organized childcare. They also offer generous leave to both mothers and fathers, giving parents choice how to take care of their children.
  • Slovakia, the United States, and Cyprus occupy the bottom places of the League Table. Weak investments in leave and childcare appear to indicate that childcare is seen more as a private rather than a public responsibility.
  • The United States is the only rich country without nationwide, statutory, paid maternity leave, paternity leave or parental leave.
  • Iceland, Latvia, New Zealand, Finland and Denmark have the highest quality of childcare.

The COVID-19 pandemic also challenged children’s education, care and well-being as parents struggled to balance their responsibilities for childcare and employment, with a disproportionate burden placed on women. In the context of lockdown and school closures, childcare was one of the worst affected family services and had a significant knock-on effect.

In the first half of 2020, 12 rich countries introduced childcare-specific policies to mitigate the impact of the crisis on families with children. They included childcare benefits (Canada, Italy, Republic of Korea, Poland), paid leave (Greece, Hungary, Norway, Romania) or simpler procedures to access childcare benefits (Austria).

The report also provides guidance on how governments and the private sector can build on their childcare and parental leave policies, including through:

  • A mix of paid maternity, paternity and parental leave for mothers and fathers in the prenatal period and the first full year of a child’s life;
  • Parental leave that is gender-sensitive and gender-equitable to ensure neither parent is overburdened with home care;
  • Leave that is available to full-time staff and those in non-standard forms of employment, such as part-time, and support that includes costs related to birth and parental care for parents in other life circumstances, such as the uninsured;
  • Affordable childcare that starts at the end of parental leave, so there is no gap in available support;
  • Accessible, flexible and affordable quality childcare available to all children irrespective of family circumstances;
  • Publicly provided and regulated childcare to facilitate access to low-income families and ensure standards in provision;
  • Investment in the childcare workforce, their qualifications and their working conditions, to encourage the highest possible standards;
  • Encouragement of employers to provide inclusive and gender-sensitive paid leave entitlements, flexible work arrangements and childcare support systems; and
  • Alignment of childcare services with other family care policies, such as universal child benefits, to reduce the risk of children’s existing inequalities being replicated in public childcare settings.

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Notes to editors:

The report uses 2018, 2019 and 2020 data from the OECD, Eurostat and UNESCO to highlight the availability of paid leave for mothers and fathers at full-rate equivalent, as well as access, quality and affordability of childcare for children between birth and school age.

Download the report here.

Media contacts

Cătălin Pruteanu
Media Consultant
UNICEF Romania
Tel: + 40 726 107 799

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